A deal with a heinous Afghan warlord? Sign me up.

I haven't seen anyone blog this interesting tidbit from Robert Kaplan's new piece in the Atlantic, in which the top U.S. intelligence official in Afghanistan says two of the most notorious Taliban affiliates are "absolutely salvageable":

A deal with the insurgents constitutes another part of a withdrawal strategy. While becoming more organizationally formidable since 9/11, the Taliban have also modified their behavior. Mullah Omar has sent out a directive banning beheadings and unauthorized kidnappings as well as other forms of violent and criminal activity, according to both Al-Jazeera and ISAF officials. “In a way, we’re seeing a kinder, gentler Taliban,” said both Commander Eggers and General Flynn. Moreover, in working with the tribes in the spirit of Churchill’s Malakand Field Force, Flynn, the intelligence chief, went so far as to suggest that the insurgent leaders Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar are both “absolutely salvageable.” “The HIG already have members in Karzai’s government, and it could evolve into a political party, even though Hekmatyar may be providing alQaeda leaders refuge in Kunar. Hekmatyar has reconcilable ambitions. As for the Haqqani network, I can tell you they are tired of fighting, but are not about to give up. They have lucrative business interests to protect: the road traffic from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to Central Asia.” Lamb, the former SAS commander, added: “Haqqani and Hekmatyar are pragmatists tied to the probability of outcomes. With all the talk of Islamic ideology, this is the land of the deal.”

There's been a lot of chatter recently over bringing Hekmatyar and/or Haqqani over on the the government side, but this is the first time I've seen a senior U.S. military official expressing this level of enthusiasm for the idea, even if it's from a free spirit like Flynn. The Washington Post editorial board pre-emptively thundered last month that the inclusion of either guy "would be a disaster for the cause of human rights or a responsible Afghan government," so presumably Flynn isn't the only guy in the U.S. military or civilian hierarchy thinking seriously about cutting a deal with one or both militant networks. (TNR's Michael Crowley quotes Bruce Riedel, who conducted the Obama administration's AfPak strategy review and presumably still talks to the powers that be, expressing cautious enthusiasm for working with Hekmatyar.)

There's no question these are nasty men, but they don't strike me as particularly worse on human rights issues than say, Abdul Rashid Dostum, Mohammad Qasim Fahim, or any number of petty warlords the United States is working with in Afghanistan. The real question is what their demands are, and whether they're willing to do things like rat out al Qaeda members hanging out in their areas of control. Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his deputies are smart, practical men who have been given an impossible timetable and are going to do whatever works in order to meet President Obama's withdrawal timeframe. If that means holding their noses and dealing with a sociopath like Hekmatyar, I'm sure they'll do it when the price is right.


Kennedy: Washington press corps "despicable"

Rep. Patrick Kennedy is getting a lot of attention for some angry remarks he directed toward the Washington Press Corps during a debate on Afghanistan policy in the House today: 

"If anybody wants to know where cynicism is … cynicism is that there is one … two press people in this gallery," Kennedy said, angrily pointing to the press gallery where reporters sit. "We're talking about Eric Massa 24/7 on the TV. We're talking about war and peace, $3 billion, 1,000 lives and no press?"


"No press!" Kennedy repeated, his voice cracking. "You wanna know why the American public is fit? They're fit because they're not seeing their Congress do the work that they're sent to do."


"It's because the press, the press of the United States, is not covering the most significant issue of national importance, and that is the laying of lives down in the nation for the service of our country. ... It's despicable, the national press corps right now!"


The bill under consideration when Kennedy made his remarks, a resolution offered by Rep. Dennis Kucinich instructing President Obama to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, has almost no chance of passing. But since Kennedy thinks it's worthy of so much attention, it's interesting that he doesn't seem to have shown up for the vote to authorize debate on it. Overall, Kennedy's missed about 20 percent of his votes during this session of Congress, which could be another reason why the American public hasn't seen him doing what he was sent to do.

In any event, the Massa coverage has certainly been excessive, but there were plenty of stories today on Kucinich's bill, probably written by the majority of reporters who were watching the action on C-Span. As for the portion of the American public that feels like reading about the war in Afghanistan, they have plenty of options. If cable news networks are focusing on the congressional sex scandals, they've probably come to the conclusion that more people will watch it.